by Michael P Coleman
Holiday music fans in northern California couldn’t ask for a better Christmas gift! The incomparable Johnny Mathis will be performing two of his five Christmas concerts this season, in Stockton and San Jose on December 12 and 14, respectively.
The shows are parts of the legend’s current tour, which has been going on for 63 years.
That’s not a typo, and is only slightly open to interpretation. Sure, Mathis has had a vacation here and there, but The Voice Of Romance has been singing and performing live continuously since 1956.
During our EXCLUSIVE interview, Mathis said that, not surprisingly, singing is the thing that he most likes to do. He also made it clear that it is no coincidence that he has recorded six full length solo Christmas albums during his illustrious career — and that’s not counting the many holiday compilations to which he has contributed.
That’s not a typo, either: six Christmas albums, starting with 1958’s Merry Christmas.
“My mom and dad worked as domestic workers, tirelessly from morning until night,” Mathis remembered. “I come from a large family — there’s seven kids — and we took care of everything as far as getting the Christmas tree, getting it lighted and decorated, buying gifts for my parents and one another…knowing all the while that Dad and Mom were working, trying to put bread on the table.”
“At this point in my life, because my mom and dad are long gone, Christmas brings back so many wonderful memories. It’s a very special time for me.”
I first caught Mathis’ enchanting Christmas show a couple of years ago. The 84 year old legend remains electric onstage, and his voice is still warm and inviting, like a musical mug of mulled cider.
And in the handful of times I have attended one of his concerts over the last decade, Mathis has delivered a different show each night.
Hopefully, Mathis will perform his new version of “White Christmas,” a duet with his long time friend Dionne Warwick, from her sterling Voices Of Christmas album. He told me that recording the song with Warwick was a joy.
“Dionne and I have been pals for a very long time,” Mathis said. “She’s like a little sister to me. And not only that, but she’s a great artist.”
“We recorded ‘White Christmas’ about six months ago, now. I haven’t heard the final mix of it, yet! I’m going to call her and say ‘Send me a copy of our song, girl!’ “
Mathis’ yuletide duet with the 78-year-old Warwick is just the latest in a series of fantastic songs they have recorded, dating back to 1982’s “Friends In Love.” With their obvious chemistry in the studio, I wondered whether fans might finally get a full-length Mathis / Warwick duet album.
“I did [an album] years ago with Deniece [Williams], and it turned out really great,” Mathis recalled. “I would love to work on a project like that with Dionne. She and I talk all of the time, so I’ll ask her about it!”
“We’d better do it now, before we die,” Mathis joked.
A Mathis / Warwick duet album. Well, then. With MY Christmas present out of the way, I thought it would only be polite to ask Mathis what he wanted for Christmas.
But I knew the artist, Johnny, would say something magnificently magnanimous like “peace on earth” or “goodwill toward men.” So I asked the man, John Royce Mathis, what he wanted for Christmas.
“Some new golf clubs,” Mathis said, with a hearty laugh that rivals St. Nick’s. “Playing golf is the second most enjoyable thing that I do with my life, other than appearing on stage and singing, which I love to do. Playing golf really has been a way for me to meet people on the same level.”
“People always want to talk about music and my success and what have you, but when you get on the golf course, it’s all about whether you make a putt or not. I love it!”
“I’ve had these old clubs of mine for, God, twenty years or so,” Mathis continued, smiling. “I just get tired of looking at them! I’ve got a golf date this afternoon, and I’m still playing with these same old golf clubs, so that’s in the back of my mind every time I go out. I think that maybe I’d play better if I had a new set of clubs!”
Santa Claus, are you listening? Johnny Mathis wants a new set of golf clubs for Christmas. With all of the joy that his music has brought to millions around the world during the holidays, Mathis should absolutely be on your “Good” list.
So Santa: get on it!